The Return of Empire
An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Boman Modine
Reading Time: 5 minutes
The Tau Pathfinders picked their way through the burnt out ruins of the village. The buildings seemed more organic than made by any sentient hand. They were now cracked open, shredded by high-yield ordinance and saturation bombing the Tau had inflicted earlier that day. The team’s leader scanned for any vestiges of life amidst the thick, black, charnel smoke. They were in the village’s main thoroughfare, the bodies of aliens charred black strewn about.
The team advanced, checking each corpse as they did so. The teamleader nudged the remains of one alien, her ocular pod on her faceplate whirring as she scrutinized the creature.
They were tall, their features angular and sharp. The team had been briefed that they were a deviant subculture of the Ar’cea that had voluntarily given up the more advanced technologies of their spaceborne cousins.
Hefting her pulse carbine, she wondered if, in the last moments of its life, had the alien regretted its people’s decision. The Galaxy was a dangerous place where all competed mercilessly with one another for evolutionary dominance. One could not remove itself from such a contest and not expect a predator to consume them.
She was about to give the ‘all clear’ to her team when pain lanced through her neck. She tasted blood, her eyes widening, then the world tilted obscenely and a final darkness took her.
Striking Scorpion Iliyth Cohled flicked his chainsword, clearing the viscera from its teeth. The headless blueskin toppled over with a crash of armor plates next to the Exodite it had been inspecting.
“Vengeance.” Cohled growled, tilting his helm in respect to the fallen Aeldari.
He turned, passively observing as the rest of the blueskin vermin were exterminated by his fellow Scorpions in as many heartbeats.
“There will be more,” whispered Kathanil as he took position next to Cohled. “The Farseer Council should have sent the Warhost.”
“It was I that insisted our infiltration. The Galaxy is alight with what may be the final conflict for our species. The Council believed this world beyond the skein of their consideration. We are here for other reasons.”
“Then you believe the Exarch fled to this place?” “Yes.”
The Striking Scorpions were known for their ability to become one with their surroundings, disappearing from not only the visible spectrums but from the comprehensible realm. To the Tau, who only understood what they could see and hear, the notion that their thoughts themselves could be manipulated never occurred to them; allowing the Scorpions to gain ground quickly.
They reached the heart of the village, a wide circle with a great, now burning, tree at its center. This had been a place of communion, joy, and fellowship for the Exodites. Now—
“Cohled!” His own name vibrated through the spirit stones in his armor. Each warrior was empathically linked by them, allowing thoughts and impressions to be shared at the speed of thought.
Cohled surfaced, growing out of the shadows of a patch of rubble next to Kathanil who pointed to a gathering near the tree. One of the blueskin’s walker constructs was standing over a huddled crowd of Exodites being roughly pushed toward the tree’s base by armored warriors. They grunted in their incomprehensible language but their intent was clear in the universal brutality of war.
“They will kill them, Cohled!” Kathanil hissed. Other Scorpions were appearing. He felt their thoughts, their outrage.
“No.” Cohled whispered. “We must find Kelseth.”
The walker raised one of its ‘arms’, a four barreled canon mounted to it. Cohled closed his eyes. They, he, needed to find their master. The cannon began to spin, revving up to fire.
Then something pulsed through each Striking Scorpion through their spirit stones. They gritted teeth in sympathetic rage, their heartbeats racing in synchronicity as an old influence touched their souls.
The world exploded.
A blur of green struck the walker like a lightning bolt, its cannon cut in half, backfired, then exploded. Two blueskin warriors died next before they could even react, their bodies reduced to wet ribbons.
“Kelseth!” Cohled realized. Then his body was moving, even before his mind was aware of it. He and the Scorpions ran as one and charged the confused blueskins.
Cohled disemboweled one even as he riddled another with his mandiblasters. Kathanil leapt over him and pierced the helmet of a blueskin about to aim in a shower of sparks and blood.
Throughout this he felt rather than saw their master. He was dismantling the blueskin walker, piece by piece until it collapsed under its own weight. Only then did Kelseth fully appear, ancient Exarch armor gleaming.
The walker’s chassis opened, sparks and fluids spitting. Within, Cohled could see a bleeding Tau pilot who glared up at Kelseth, otherwise helpless. It said something in its own language and Cohled was surprised to hear his master actually laugh. Then Kelseth pulled back his fist encased in the iconic powerclaw of their Aspect, and obliterated the blueskin.
The Exodites fled into the countryside under the watchful eyes of the Striking Scorpions. Cohled turned to Kelseth, seeing how his armor wore the years that his master had been gone. He was elated, yet, now that he stood next to Kelseth after so long, he felt strangely lost.
“Do not worry, Cohled.” The Exarch said. “Before I found this place I, too, was lost. The Path of the Warrior, the way of Kharandras, is but one aspect of our purpose.” He pointed out to the rolling hills beyond the ruins of the Exodite village. “We will protect this world, we will take it back for our people.”
“The Council has said they cannot afford to-“
Kelseth turned and placed a hand on Cohled’s shoulder. “I was not speaking of Saim- Hann, or the Craftworlds, but of our people. We will do this not for honor, nor glory, but for the Aeldari and for the Empire that was… and, might be again.”